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FTC: Let digital subscribers click to cancel. Newspapers: Hey, not so fast.
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Sept. 14, 2020, 2:24 p.m.
LINK:  ➚   |   Posted by: Joshua Benton   |   September 14, 2020

Apple News — which comes pre-installed on every iPhone in the U.S., U.K., Canada, and Australia — is a pretty useful source of readership and traffic for a lot of news organizations. But Apple News+ — its $10/month subscription plan that includes content from a few newspapers and hundreds of magazines — has been a bust. While Apple hasn’t released any numbers publicly, the revenue to publishers has been barely a trickle.

Apple plans to change that by bundling its less successful subscription products — Apple News+, Apple Arcade, and Apple TV+, in roughly ascending order of success — with a product that has been a hit: Apple Music. Think of it as an all-inclusive Apple content tax, er, offering.

A bundle was first hinted at in June, and Bloomberg reported the first significant details about the bundle, apparently named Apple One, last month:

The bundles, dubbed “Apple One” inside the Cupertino, California-based technology giant, are planned to launch as early as October alongside the next iPhone line, the people said. The bundles are designed to encourage customers to subscribe to more Apple services, which will generate more recurring revenue.

There will be different tiers, according to the people, who asked not to be identified discussing private plans. A basic package will include Apple Music and Apple TV+, while a more expensive variation will have those two services and the Apple Arcade gaming service. The next tier will add Apple News+, followed by a pricier bundle with extra iCloud storage for files and photos…

The initiative is a major bid by Apple to achieve the same loyalty that Inc. has won with its Prime program, which combines free shipping with video streaming and many other services for an annual or monthly fee. This bundle is the bedrock of Amazon’s success and has been mimicked by other companies before with mixed results.

Well, “as early as October” may actually be “as early as tomorrow,” according to new reports that seem to indicate Apple One is right around the corner.

Over the weekend, 9to5Mac found text strings that “appear in the localization files used for the iPhone’s Manage Subscriptions screen. The text has been added recently, which may further suggest that Apple One is going to be announced at Apple’s special event on Tuesday.” Similar verbiage was found a few days ago in Apple Music’s Android app. And MacRumors noted some related domain registrations. Apple has one of its signature product unveilings scheduled for tomorrow, Sept. 15.

Will a bundled subscription make a difference for Apple News+? It depends on the details, of course. But Bloomberg’s report that Apple News+ would be reserved for only the most expensive level of Apple One — for people who also want Apple Music, Apple TV+, and Apple Arcade — doesn’t suggest huge increases in customer interest. Even if a bundle functionally lowers the price of Apple News+ — say, from $10 to $5 a month — I wouldn’t expect a lot of takers.

If Bloomberg is correct, Apple News+ won’t be able to benefit from being one part of a single omnibus bundle — the way that, say, Amazon Prime Video benefits from being part of Amazon Prime. Lots of people want two-day shipping from Amazon; if they get it, they also get 60 episodes of “Bosch.” Imagine if you could save $20 a year off your Prime subscription if you, say, opted out of Prime Reading. A lot of people would, because it’s not a part of the bundle they’re particularly interested in.

As long as Apple News+ is a separate customer decision — not for all Apple One subscribers, just for the top tier — I suspect it’ll still struggle to gain a market, no matter how hard Apple pushes it on your iPhone. To do that, it’ll need to become a much more compelling product — and it still has a long way to go there.

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